The aviation industry remains at the forefront of implementing strategic measures to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), as air travel plays a key role in both the transmission and prevention of the virus. In light of this, the World Health Organization (WHO) has outlined essential guidelines to standardize the aviation sector’s operational processes in managing COVID-19.
Aviation crew and ground personnel should receive COVID-specific training.
Aviation crew and ground personnel should receive training on how to recognize the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, as well as how to prevent its transmission, such as practicing proper hand hygiene, social distancing and respiratory etiquette (covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing).
The training should also educate personnel on proper use and removal of personal protective equipment and implementation of best practices on environmental cleaning, waste disposal, and management of situations where the personnel comes in contact with individuals exhibiting flu-like symptoms.
Aviation staff based in areas where there are confirmed COVID-19 cases should take extra precautions.
For aviation staff stationed in areas where there are COVID-19 cases, training should include knowledge on reporting, management of ill travelers, and contact tracing.
Additional precautionary measures must be applied to reduce the possibility of infection, such as:
- Taking private transportation when possible and avoiding use of public transport during rush hours.
- Observing social distancing at all times, including when moving from the airport to ground transportation, and vice versa.
- Self-monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms, including fever, cough and breathing difficulties. If you experience these symptoms, immediately do self-isolation, wear a mask, inform your employer and seek medical attention. The aircraft operator or airline must report the situation to local health authorities.
If you develop any of these symptoms during a flight, it is recommended to stop carrying out your duties only when it is safe to do so. Then, inform the crew and follow the steps outlined in WHO’s Global Surveillance for human infection with coronavirus disease.
Be ready to activate WHO-recommended measures for managing suspected cases.
Airline staff and aircraft operators must collaborate with airport health authorities in managing suspected cases and in implementing the airport public health contingency plan. Aside from this scheme, the interim guidance released by WHO for managing ill travelers at ports of entry and the action items in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Annex 9 and 14 must be implemented.
Airport health authorities must also coordinate with support service providers so the latter can execute relevant safety procedures. These service providers may include aircraft cleaners, cargo and baggage handlers and waste removal service providers.
Suspected cases on-board an aircraft must be effectively managed to minimize risk of transmission.
In case the cabin crew identifies an ill traveler on-board the aircraft, they should ensure contact with the said traveler and other passengers or cabin crew members is minimized. The pilots and aircrew should then inform their airport of destination about the situation prior to arrival.
The aircrew should guide the ill traveler to disembark according to protocols set by the airport health authority to reduce the risk of transmitting the disease to other passengers, crew members and ground personnel.
Airport staff should be present to assess the condition of the traveler, who will be isolated if he/she meets the definition of a suspected case.
Contact tracing must be done immediately.
As soon as a suspected case has been identified on-board, the aircrew must identify and manage the contacts to prevent further transmission of the disease.
A contact is any individual sitting within two meters of the suspected case; any travel companion or individual providing care to the suspected case; and any cabin crew member who served the suspected case or who had been designated to look after the suspected case.
Once the aircraft arrives at the airport, the suspected case and their contacts will need to undergo health observation. If the suspected case tests positive for COVID-19 after the flight, then all contacts must be quarantined. Other passengers who have not been identified as contacts will be advised to self-monitor for 14 days, and must immediately seek health services and self-isolate if they develop any symptoms.
All aircraft must have universal precaution kits to help manage suspected cases on-board.
The aircraft should have universal precaution kits that can be operated by at least one cabin crew member. The kits should include the following:
- Dry powder that can transform small liquid spills into a sterile granulated gel
- Germicidal disinfectant or wipes for cleaning surfaces
- Protective equipment such as mask, gloves, a protective apron and, if available, a full-length long-sleeved gown
- Biohazard disposable waste bag, if available
Aircraft cleaning and disinfection should be enhanced.
Routine cleaning procedures will suffice if there is no passenger who developed or showed any of the COVID-19 symptoms. However, if there is a passenger who developed or showed any symptom during or immediately after the flight, more stringent cleaning procedures should be applied, including the following:
- Cleaners should wear full protection gear, including gowns, heavy duty gloves, face shield or goggles and medical mask.
- Cleaners must use a detergent to clean surfaces, followed by a disinfectant that contains at least 0.1% sodium hypochlorite. After leaving the surfaces with chlorine for 10 minutes, the surfaces should be rinsed with water.
- While the cleaning crew is sanitizing the aircraft, the aircraft’s ventilation systems must be kept running.
- Potentially contaminated items must be disposed of properly. These may include hand towels, masks, gloves and tissues.
WHO strongly suggests boosting hygiene services at the airport in compliance with guidelines from the Airport Council International: https://aci.aero/about-aci/priorities/health/documentation/
To view the full interim guidance from WHO, please click here.
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